Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ask the Administrator: The Trailing International Same-Sex Partner

A longtime reader writes:

I am a junior faculty about to take a job in a top 10 department (denote by Top D). I am not American. I am gay. My life partner is also not American. My partner was until recently in our home country, let's call it X. He worked for an investment bank in country X, and had a very successful career (He's relatively young, so he'd be equivalent to a Senior Associate at a top investment bank). But we decided I would not go back to X, and we would instead try to both settle in the US (hopefully in the city where Top D is, which is a big big city, surely one of the biggest 5 cities in the US, and which I will denote as City D). City D is pretty good for my partner career-wise, but not nearly as good as NYC and maybe two other cities would be.

In order to gain time to engineer our move into the US, I took a 2 year postdoc in country Y. (Top D was nice enough to defer my starting date one year). Country Y is wonderful for us, since we were able to migrate into Y as a couple, thanks to (oh, irony) our civil union/domestic partnership (which we got in one of the few US states where one can get a civil union/domestic partnership, even if neither I nor my partner were residents of said state). My life partner is currently in school in country Y, getting an MBA. Now it's time for him to apply for jobs... in the US (our ideal country of location) and in country Y (where he'd have no trouble whatsoever getting a job/visa).

Chair and faculty at Top D are aware of my partner, and his need to find a job in
in city D). Chair has said all the right things about helping out my partner find a job (send his CV, I'll circulate it, etc)... but apparently has DONE nothing (he hasn't put us in touch with anyone, i.e. people in the school's business school, the two relatively big donors - or someone who works for them - to Top University we identified as potential employers of my life partner, etc).

Do you maybe have any advice for us? We're not yet desperate (we still have some time), but we might soon be frankly desperate (it's hard for a top flier like my partner not to have any idea of what he'll be doing in the next few months, and to feel so in the dark as to how to proceed). The interaction between being gay AND non-resident is giving us a real headache. Navigating the US immigration system seems daunting for us. My life partner is highly qualified (i.e. about to graduate from probably the top European Business School), but we have heard many horror stories about applying for jobs in industry in the US (i.e. employers losing interest THE SECOND they identify that a candidate would need an H1-B visa).

Do you think I should put added pressure on Chair of Top D to look into this? Shall I contact individual faculty members at Top D to see whether any of them have links to industry, i.e. via their spouse? (I have done this, but only in a couple of instances). Shall I contact the LGBT office of the university? The Dean (who I didn't interact with while being hired)? Or is my partner totally on his own on this one?

We don't even know what to do RE: seemingly minor things that could have big consequences. I.e. does he candidly state his visa needs in his resume? Or not? In the hope that if/when an employer interviews them they will develop enough enthusiasm for him that they will try to get him an H1-B visa? Say that he was Canadian, and thus eligible for a NAFTA visa (very easy to get, no expenses for the employer whatsoever, etc), shall he actively advertise this? I.e. a line in his CV stating "I am eligible for a NAFTA (TN) Visa"? (Downside is TN visas don't lead to residency down the line, but that'd be a good temporary solution for us to at least make it to City D, and then try to find an employer able/willing to hire my partner via an H1-B visa).

Excuse the rambling, and the odd question.

There's a lot here, but I think it's relatively decipherable if it's taken in small pieces. And I'll have to ask my readers for some help on this one.

I see this as a particularly complicated version of the basic 'trailing spouse' dilemma. As hard as it can be to find one good job, it's that much harder to find two in the same place. Some couples (both gay and straight) get around that issue by going the long-distance relationship route. From what I've observed, it makes the job searches easier, but at an obvious cost to your private life. You haven't mentioned that as an option, so I'll assume it's not the way you want to go.

Reading between the lines, I get the impression that your partner isn't really looking for an academic job. That's good, in the sense that few industries are as hard to break into as academia, but it does reduce the likelihood that your department chair will be of much use. I'm not at all surprised that your chair hasn't done much to help – chances are that even if s/he wanted to, s/he just doesn't have the relevant contacts. (And that's a big 'if' – at many places, if you're anything short of a superstar, finding a spousal job is really the candidate's problem. Very rural places can be an exception, to the extent that they're paranoid about flight risk. But since you're talking about major cities, that's moot.)

I wouldn't “pressure” the Chair at Top D. Instead, I'd ask different questions. Ask the Chair to put in a call to the campus Career Services office on your behalf, to get permission for your partner to avail himself of their help. (This should take about five minutes of the Chair's time, so I don't think it's out of bounds. If the Chair gets balky, just ask her to ask the Dean to do it.) If the university has ever had international students before – and I'd bet it has – then the questions about how to present visa status on an application have come up before, and the career services folk should be practiced hands at that. I'd also ask the Chair to arrange for you to have a brief audience (even if only by phone) with the Dean of Students, or whomever handles international students on campus. Someone who deals with immigration law every single day can offer much savvier guidance about the current rules and loopholes than could almost anyone else. Since these are on-campus resources and all you're asking for is referrals, I can't see anybody objecting that you're placing an undue burden on the department.

I don't know how useful the campus LGBT office would be; I'm not sure this is really in their wheelhouse. I'll just have to ask knowledgeable readers to comment on that.

Admittedly, these aren't nearly as good as simply calling the trustee's cousin and landing a plum gig at Behemoth Corporation, but such things rarely happen in the real world. Finding the job will still be your problem, but you'll at least have more resources at your disposal when you try.

Contacting individual faculty members strikes me as extremely risky. It would come off as trying to make your problem their problem, which is not a good first impression to make, especially when you're trying to get tenure.

Another option, of course, would be to look actively (for both of you) in more locations.

The trailing spouse problem in higher ed is real, and ubiquitous, and getting worse. It clashes directly with 'open search' laws, hiring freezes, departmental autonomy (when the trailing spouse is in a different department), and basic fairness to single people. That said, people have a funny habit of pairing off. I've written before about some particularly silly proposed solutions to the dilemma; I have yet to see a really good one.

Good luck.

Generous readers – what would you add (or correct)?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.